Discussing society’s views on race

Students participate in conversations about racism.

Students, alumni and teachers all gathered on Wednesday, Feb. 10 to talk about and address peoples’ questions and opinions on how black people are being treated in this country. This was a part of Black History Month and was organized by the Black Student Association. On the panel were Zawdie Terry and Hodan Hassan as well as BC professors Eric Davis and Nicholas Russ. It was basically a conversation between the audience and the panel, with people in the audience asking questions about this topic or giving their ideas and opinions.

Each member of the panel would then take turns answering the questions or replying to the opinions. “It’s important that we have discussions about black life in an educational space,” said Russ, who was also the main organizer of the event.

The main topic of this talk was how black people are being treated differently than white people, not just by the police but by society itself. One question was about the fact that mostly black people are playing sports, while white people own the teams and companies that sponsor the teams.

Students participate in conversations about racism.
Students participate in conversations about racism.

Both Terry and Davis compared the process of selecting football players to slave auctions. Davis described the process, saying “Basically, they’re in spandex, and they walk up and they come forward and they are on the stage and the sea of white scouts are taking notes.” He then demonstrated that the candidates had to put their arms out to their sides and turn around slowly, then get on a scale to show how much they weigh. “It’s modern day slavery, but you get paid,” said Terry.

Another way that blacks are treated unfairly, according to the panel, is when Hollywood hires white people to write roles that a black person is going to play. Hassan said that hiring a black writer would “do more justice to that character than any white person could.” She went on to say that black people end up being stereotypes in most TV shows and movies, usually being the one person who “is a thug and is in every other episode being arrested by the police,” or, according to Terry, “the goofy comedic relief.”  The panel agreed that stereotyping black people is a form of racism. “I think Hollywood needs to hear that,” said Hassan.

In addition, the panel discussed the problem that started the whole Black Lives Matter movement. Every member of the panel said that police brutality towards black people is not only the individual’s fault, but also the fault of the system that trains policemen. Someone who plans to be a policeman was at the panel and asked how he could tell whether black people are just scared or actually out to get him, since he hadn’t interacted much with them yet. Mary Mitchell, a member of the audience, answered in a way that earned applause from attendees. “When you’re dealing with someone and you’re trying to figure out ‘are they actually going to attack me or are they just upset,’ picture yourself,” she said. “Or picture your brother or your sister. If you picture someone you know, you’re going to be protective.” Hassan also answered the future policeman’s question with a statement that it wasn’t his fault if he couldn’t tell the two apart, since he “went into a system where the training he got was like: ‘here’s all the black people,’” saying that the police academy encouraged the “thug” stereotype she talked about earlier. She also said that she saw a video of how the academy teaches people how to shoot. “They show you an old white lady, you don’t shoot,” she said. “You see a black guy that looks like a thug, you shoot.”

Many people agreed that the panel was informative and successful. “I liked that the panel was interactive and that everyone could share their opinion,” said Aiyama Pomato, an audience member.
Terry said he was glad that people were finally talking about racism against black people again, saying “Martin Luther King was used to pacify” protests against this issue. He said that many people believe MLK totally solved racism in this country. “A few years went by, and now it’s erupting again,” he said.

Despite its success, the panel didn’t want this discussion to be the end of it. “It’s a start of a good conversation which needs to continue,” said Oriana Estrada, the main promoter of this event. In order to continue talking about racism and mistreatment, Nefi Clark, president of the Black Student Association, said students should “be more aware and acknowledge, and keep an open mind” as well as attend the other events that the BSU will offer throughout the year.